Menu Malaysia: Fourth Course – Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands

We were dubious about the Cameron Highlands. We’d met some tourists who had not been impressed, and the Lonely Planet guide (unreliable and disappointing in general, but that’s another blog post) implied that in recent years the region’s character had been wrecked with commercialism and its natural environment ravaged and plundered. The facts as we saw them?

Tanah Rata, the main Highlands town and the place most tourists base themselves, was extremely pleasant, with plenty of character all its own and a certain coolness – and I mean that literally and in the hip sense of the word – that set it apart from any other Malaysian town we visited. No doubt there have been environmental abuses in the region, but as tourists, we saw no evidence of this. On the contrary, the undulating slopes of velvety green tea plantations are spectacular scenically, as is the bus trip up and down the terraced (and often quite hairy) roads that spiral around the Highlands. And the Moss Forest is a marvel. So, whatever environmental sins have been committed in the area, whatever changes have taken place in positioning the Highlands as a tourist destination, Lonely Planet has done its readers a disservice in giving an impression of the region as spoiled. It is not.


But I digress from the theme of this series of blogs: the food. In this, Tanah Rata is remarkable: the main street is lined with excellent restaurants, and the quality of the Indian food, in particular, is tremendous. I would go so far as to rank the Indian food in Tanah Rata as the best we came across in Malaysia, with the exception of the flabbergasting hawker restaurant I raved about in the Melaka post.

Two restaurants stood out.

The D’Chennai Curry House, in the main street (Jl Besar)
Sensational banana and honey rotis! Nokia, the roti cook, does them to perfection. We enjoyed watching him from our streetside breakfast table showing off his skills, smiling broadly, obviously relishing the attention. The dough is kneaded into submission, the oil content adjusted by degrees until the consistency is right, whereupon it is flattened out with a rolling pin and the toppings scattered on, much like a pizza.


Here the real show starts. The roti dough is whirled around at chest height to stretch it thin, then deftly folded into four layers and thrown on the hotplate to brown.


Nokia recommended a sprinkling of Milo powder to top off my banana and honey roti, but I didn’t take him up, my reasoning being – based on the previous day’s offering – that the unadorned version was too delicious to tamper with. Finish off with a steaming hot teh tarik (the ones at the D’Chennai are especially good), and I promise you, you have a breakfast to remember! How much?
Price: Banana roti with honey – 2RM (75c AUD); teh tarik 1RM (40c AUD). Criminal!

Restaurant Bunga Saria, 66A Psn Camellia 3
Lonely Planet declares this South Indian mostly vegetarian restaurant the best value in town, and for once, I agree with them. When I was in Kerala, India, my very favourite lunch was the ubiquitous masala dosai, a crispy fried pancake made from rice flour batter, doubled over like a giant pasty, with hot potato curry inside and served traditionally with dahl and an aromatic, mildly spicy coconut chutney. I have quested after a good masala dosai ever since, but have never happened upon one to compare with those of Kerala…until the Bunga Saria.

THEY SERVE BEAUTIES! Absolutely up with the best I had in India. Do not miss this treat if ever you have the good fortune to be in Tanah Rata. These dosais were so damned good, we took pics of them with our little Canon pocket camera – which of course, do not do them justice. Look and weep…
Price: 2.5RM per dosai (90c AUD)


We were sad to leave Tanah Rata, because it was our last stop in Malaysia before bussing back to Singapore and flying home…and because we were leaving behind those ineffable banana and honey roti breakfasts and masala dosai lunches.

But as if to reward us for following our food freak instincts against all advice and choosing this country of marvellous eating as our holiday destination over more popular options, Malaysia was to turn on one last plaisir de table for us in the most unlikely of places – one we had never even heard of!

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